Community awareness, trust cited as factors in Black business and event success
By Charles Hallman
With the African American community being relatively small in Minnesota, it can be challenging for Black business owners and those planning events targeted at Blacks to obtain the level of support they are seeking. But there are at least two events that continue to gain momentum each year.
This year’s Twin Cities Black Film Festival (TCBFF) appeared to be attended by many Blacks. “This festival was one of our most successful festivals, because I did try to tap into those unknown groups” such as community groups with large numbers of African American in attendance, reported TCBFF Founder-Director Natalie Morrow.
She noted that during the four-day event held in September, one film was sold out and other screenings had large crowds. “Overall, people also purchased tickets and said they can’t come but they wanted to support [me]. A lot of people just
purchased [four-day] passes, didn’t show, but they wanted to support us.
“I’ve seen more of that this year than I’ve ever had,” said Morrow. “We tried to do some different things, and I am really grateful. I think it’s just finding those people who like to go out and tapping into that.”
“This is probably my third festival that I’ve attended,” noted Sandy Johnson of Maplewood.
St. Paul’s Golden Thyme owner Michael Wright in September 2002 started the Selby Ave. JazzFest, a day-long community street event of food, music, arts and other activities near his longtime coffee shop. “Next year will be our 13th year,” he says proudly of the now annual event. “From that first time of 300 to 400, maybe 500 people, to [now] anywhere between 15,000 to 17,000 people a day of beautiful folk of all walks of life to come and listen to jazz.”
However, some Black-oriented events are often not as well attended. In previous years there has been low attendance at the TCBFF, with non-Blacks clearly outnumbering Blacks. When
asked why Blacks seemingly don’t support such events, Johnson answered, “I feel like the few events we have that are culturally specific for us, sometimes we have conflicting events, and that is a good and bad thing. It’s a good thing for commerce and it makes for choices, but at the same time, it is hard because we want everyone to succeed at whatever venue.
“I feel that if we didn’t have everything happening on one day or two nights, then we would have a bigger turnout,” said Johnson.
“I think of [other] cultures — we talk about Hispanics, they support [each other], but we don’t support like that. We’re good for thinking that everything should be free or should be a discounted rate, or pay a certain price,” added Morrow, who said there was some frustration in the beginning in convincing Blacks how important it was to host an annual Black film festival in the Twin Cities.
“The state of Minnesota is in the top five states for arts and culture in the country. That’s because of the Walker, Guthrie and the Penumbra,” she explained. “Us having a Black film festival here is not too far off kilter.”
“We have to start to trust [Black people],” believes Wright.
“There have been times when I reached out to people [and] it hasn’t been welcomed,” continued Morrow. “And there have been times that I reached out to organizations and they have tried to do whatever to help you. I try to reach out to every organization, to as many as possible.
“I try to volunteer [at other events]. But I don’t get it back all the time. This year I was super happy seeing a lot of new people [volunteering at the TCBFF].”
“The challenge that our community has is that we don’t support our own,” notes Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce (MBCC) President Lea Hargett. “Because we don’t support our own, we don’t have within our own [community] the kind of organizations that we should have… That’s where I’ve got to try to do everything I can to get this message out so that we can build a stronger Chamber.”
“I think that Blacks will support events like mine if they are made aware of it. I think sometimes we just assume that everybody knows what you’re doing and what’s going on,” concluded Morrow.
Next: How helpful are such organizations as the MBCC for local Black-owned businesses?
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]